star wars battlefront 2

Welcome to The Water Cooler, a weekly feature where the /Film staff is free to go off-topic and talk about everything except the movies and TV shows they normally write about. In this edition: Ethan Anderton checks out Star Wars Battlefront 2, Ben Pearson eats some delicious barbecue, Hoai-Tran Bui binges American Vandal, Peter Sciretta attends a “Strolling Magic Showdown,” and Jacob Hall reads two very different books about filmmakers.

Ethan Anderton Played the Star Wars Battlefront 2 Beta

Though my free time has been severely reduced by my student teaching schedule, I took a little bit of time to partake in the Star Wars Battlefront 2 beta testing that happened this past weekend. The changes from the first version of the game aren’t remarkably different, but they certainly improve gameplay. The system for upgrading weapons and getting bonus features is a nice improvement and the graphics for a Star Wars video game like this have never looked better. But in the end, the experience is mostly the same as before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Personally, when it comes to my gaming habits, I’m a fan of being able to unwind by checking into a video game and being able to check out just as quickly and easily. Therefore, multiplayer shooters like Star Wars Battlefront and Call of Duty are extremely appealing to me. As a huge Star Wars fan, I just love being thrown into the middle of a massive battle across recognizable locations in the Star Wars universe, playing as the characters I love, and especially flying the signature ships. So while the gameplay in Star Wars Battlefront 2 may be repetitive, that’s totally fine with me.

Sadly, the new campaign mode for Star Wars Battlefront 2 was not playable during beta, and that’s probably what some players are most interested in checking out. I know I’m interested to see how the story progresses and fills in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, especially since it will be part of the official Star Wars canon, but we’ll have to wait until the game is released in November to check it out.

Ben Pearson Has Been Eating Barbecue in Kansas City

I’ve spent the past few days in Kansas City, Missouri tagging along with my wife, who’s here for a work conference. While I’ve been working from the hotel room during the day, the true joy of the trip comes from the meals we’ve eaten here – and more specifically, the barbecue.

I grew up in the South, where access to excellent barbecue was practically a given. And since I spent the first twenty-five-ish years of my life building up a love for that style of food, I was disheartened to learn that the Los Angeles barbecue scene leaves a lot to be desired. I guess you can’t have everything, and it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

But being in Kansas City, one of the world’s best barbecue hotspots, is a real treat. My favorite place is called Joe’s Kansas City, a local joint that took over a fried chicken counter in a gas station back in the ’70s and still operates out of that tiny location. There’s often a line out the door, but it’s always worth it – this is the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten. (Anthony Bourdain agrees: he lists it as one of the places you must eat before you die.) It’s the perfect blend of smokiness and fall-off-the-bone tenderness that puts it above its competitors, and every time I bite into a pulled pork sandwich or piece of brisket, I experience a rush of flavors so delicious that it makes me wonder if I should pack up everything I own and move here just so I can eat it all the time. If you’re ever in the area, carve out a couple of hours to check this out.

Hoai-Tran Bui Has Been Watching the True-Crime Satire American Vandal

I’m not a huge fan of the true-crime genre — the whole craze around Serial, The Jinx, and Making a Murderer just kind of passed me by. The closest I’ve gotten to true-crime is probably Buzzfeed Unsolved, which features a healthy dose of supernatural ghost stories as well. I’m one of those people who will hear “you should watch it, it’s great!” and promise to, but then…I don’t. Chock it up to lack of time or laziness, but I always miss whatever true-crime documentary is currently in the zeitgeist.

So it’s a shock that I even picked up American Vandal, which is both a biting satire of true crime documentaries and one very long dick joke. But boy, was I glad that I did.

American Vandal is a mockumentary following the efforts of two students who try to uncover the true perpetrator of a costly piece of vandalism that results in the school burnout, Dylan Maxwell, to be expelled. It sounds like a fairly serious story, but because the vandalism consisted of penises spray painted on 27 cars, the show largely consists of students and teachers somberly asking, “Who drew the dicks?”

The show sticks to the bit and runs with it, never once winking at the camera or becoming too self-effacing. The series is made to look like a high-school production, and the subplots are inane excursions into ball hairs, student hook-ups, and Kiefer Sutherland prank calls. It’s a brilliant takedown of the true-crime genre, as well as a surprisingly poignant depiction of the pressures of high school life. The latter half of the series packs an emotional wallop that you would not expect in an eight-episode dick joke, and gets to the core of teenage angst and societal expectations. Not bad for a series whose premise initially sounds like a “cut for time” SNL sketch.

strolling magic showdown

Peter Sciretta Attended a Strolling Magic Showdown at the Magic Castle

On Tuesday night, I attended the Magic Castle’s annual Strolling Magic Showdown for the first time. The event is open to all magician members and has them go table hopping, showing their best quick tricks to spectators and judges. The top three rated magicians are declared the winners and get bragging rights and a bunch of cool prizes. It’s basically speed dating, but with magicians.

The event was a lot of fun. Over the course of 90 minutes, we saw 21 magicians come to our table to do close-up magic. The majority of the tricks were with playing cards, although one magician swallowed needles and thread and regurgitated them combined (a trick once performed by Houdini) and another magician had a 4 inch nail in his nostril that I was kindly asked to pull out.

The entrants ranged from amateur hobbyists to more seasoned performers, but every one was entertaining. Probably one of the coolest tricks was one where a magician had our table of five people choose five cards from deck of playing cards. He then took out his iPhone calculator and had us throw out some random numbers which he multiplied. At the end, the calculator had the number which ended up being the numbers of all five of our cards. Then the magician observed that the 5 cards not only made up that days date (10/10) but also the exact time down to the minute that this revelation came. I was very impressed by the timing of this reveal.

We saw a lot of great sleight of hand and some entertaining comedy. One magician after performing for us, whispered to me “big fan of the site and the new podcast,” which was cool. And at the end, we got to vote for the best strolling magician, which was a tough task. I’ll definitely be attending the next one of these, maybe even as a performer.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made

Jacob Hall Read The Disaster Artist and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

As readers of The Water Cooler may know, I’m currently between houses – I had to be out of my apartment and the closing date on my new house was delayed several weeks. So that meant paying for storage and temporarily moving in with my mother 90 minutes away. And because I knew I’d have a lot of time on my hands, I kept a few unread books out of storage and burned through them both over the past two weeks: The Disaster Artist and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

The Disaster Artist is probably the better known book of the two: it chronicles the making of The Room, one of the most famous bad movies all time, and it’s been adapted into an excellent movie opening this December. I caught the film at SXSW, which meant that I was allowed to be pleasantly surprised by how well the adaptation captures Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book, which manages to be tragic, hilarious, and downright terrifying, often at the same time. What could have been a series of car crash moments, with the book tapping the brakes and slowing down to allow time to admire the wreckage, is actually a lovely page-turner about dreams, how the film industry is built to destroy dreams, and how some dreams simply shouldn’t be allowed to come to life. And here’s the kicker: it’s short. Really short. I read it in two sittings. You really don’t have any excuses to not read this one if you enjoy books about movies and bizarrely lovable psychopaths who make movies.

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination is not short. In fact, it’s a doorstop. Neal Gabler’s biography of the most important man in American pop culture history (something you’ll agree with if you read the book!) feels comprehensive. It’s fat enough that carrying it around feels like a chore. But after the typical slow start – you will learn every single little thing you could possibly want to know about Walt Disney’s childhood – the book becomes a gripping and fascinating read, exploring Disney’s complicated life and his ever-shifting perspective on art. It turns that – GASP! – Walt Disney was a complex and contradictory man whose failures and successes inform his work and legacy in ways that cannot be briefly summed up. The focus of the book is Disney’s life, so don’t go into this one expecting an in-depth look at the making of every single movie with his name on it. Instead, Gabler focuses on the man himself, his obsessions, and how his constant desire for escape created new hobbies, which eventually grew into new mission statements. Entertainment industry biographies don’t get much better than this.

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